Thursday, January 07, 2010

Culture Shock 01.07.10: Say goodbye and good riddance to awful Aughts

Everyone seems happy to be done with the Aughts. But are the Aughts really, as some claim, the worst decade ever?

They certainly have the worst name. "Aught" means "zero," which should have been an early warning that the Aughts were trouble.

Still, despite 9/11, the war in Iraq and the late-decade economic collapse, the Zero Decade doesn't have anything on the 1930s and '40s, which gave us World War II, the Great Depression and the Holocaust.

The 1960s were pretty bad, too. We had riots, presidential assassinations, the Vietnam War and, worst of all, hippies — dirty, stinking hippies.

Yet when I consider just the four decades I've experienced personally, the past 10 years are definitely a contender for the worst of the lot.

In retrospect, the 1980s and '90s seem pretty boring. But the momentous events that did occur during those 20 years were, for the most part, all for the best. At the top of the list, communism collapsed, freeing millions of people from tyranny and forcing alleged stand-up comedian Yakov Smirnoff into exile in Branson, Mo.

Those were good times.

But how do the Aughts stack up against the most maligned decade of my lifetime — the 1970s?

In most respects, even the '70s look good in comparison. And that's taking into account stagflation, long gasoline lines, the Iran hostage crisis and Watergate.

And just when you thought nothing could surpass the awfulness of '70s fashions, the Aughts stepped up to the challenge. The '70s gave us leisure suits, but the Aughts gave us Crocs. And while we may have worn bell-bottoms in the '70s, at least we didn't wear them low enough to show off our boxers. (Hardly anyone wore boxers back then, anyway. It was briefs or nothing.) Also, we all knew back then how to wear a baseball cap. (Hint: the brim faces forward.)

So, no matter how badly people dressed in the '70s, at least nobody dressed like the cast of "Jersey Shore."

The '70s also used to be the target of bipartisan contempt. Republicans hated them because they're when 1960s values went mainstream. Democrats hated them because they're when 1960s values "sold out" to the Establishment.

But I prefer to think of the '70s as the last decade before sex could kill you. Love was in the air, but AIDS wasn't. Not yet. It was a simpler, sexier time when Playboy Playmates didn't all have breast implants and you could still smoke indoors. We didn't realize how good we had it.

Comparing the '70s to the Aughts, the '70s come out on top just about every time. Just compare the music: Southern rock beats "new country," rhythm and blues beats hip-hop, and disco beats techno. These are facts.

As for movies, the '70s compare favorably to every decade, not just the Aughts. Name three movies from any other era, and I'll raise you a "Godfather," a "Jaws" and a "Star Wars."

The one thing the Aughts have in their favor is television. TV during the past 10 years was better than ever before — and that's true even after you deduct points for the glut of mindless "reality" shows. During the Aughts, all of the cable channels that popped up during the '80s and '90s started to pay off, from "The Wire" and "Battlestar Galactica" to "Dexter" and "The Shield."

Technology also plays in the Aughts' favor. When the decade began, I was using a huge desktop computer with a dial-up modem. Now I carry around a broadband connection in my pocket.

But, overall, the Aughts sucked. There's no getting around it.

So, to the Aughts I say, "Goodbye and good riddance."

Bring on the Teens.

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